I love Disneyland! My first visit was when I was 5 years old, and I have been back many times since, with lots of different sizes of groups, and all ages of people. I have to admit, some of those visits have gone smoother than others. But by now I can say that I’ve practiced Disney enough to be pretty good at it. So I hope I can help you have a great Disney vacation as well!
Note: I don’t earn commission from any links in this post, but I hope they will be helpful to my readers.
First off, I always look at my groups dynamics. Here are some common ones.
#1 A baby
Babies are sweet and I have no problem taking them to Disneyland. But babies need some special care. Disney has BabyCare Centers in both parks to accommodate many needs. The facilities are completely free to use, and include changing rooms, nursing rooms, kitchen (with a sink, microwave, and highchairs), a sitting room with tables and chairs, a TV, and vending machines in case you forgot (or ran out of) diapers and wipes, formula and baby food, a binky, sunscreen, or pain medication.
At Disneyland, the Baby Care Center is located at the end of Main Street closest to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. When facing the castle, turn right at the last building in the row on Main Street. If you pass the Plaza Inn, you’ve gone too far. At California Adventure, the Baby Care Center is located on the Wharf around the corner from the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain. Take the path on the left when facing Ghirardelli.
When planning your itinerary, you may want to schedule breaks for feeding and napping. If you are not close to the Baby Care Center, there are several
quiet out-of-the-way places that you might not be disturbed. At Disneyland when Mickey’s Magical Map is not playing the theatre area is generally free from crowds. Tom Sawyer Island has some space as well. You could also take a ride on the train or visit Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. At California Adventure, there are some benches under the Silly Symphony Swings that are out of the way. Another spot is between the Soarin’ entrance and Grizzly River Rapids, right where the path bends, as long as there is not a character greeting going on.
#2 People who are older or have limited mobility
Face it, most of us have waaay more energy when we are young. So if your group includes people who are older, or have any condition that limits their mobility, you will have to plan more time for walking from place to place. One way to help with this is to either buy the MaxPass, so you can get your FastPasses on your phone, or to send one younger, energetic person to obtain the FastPasses for the entire group. (I’m not that young, but since Disneyland energizes me, I am usually the designated FastPass runner.)
#3 A recently potty-trained child
If you have one of these, you know that by the time they need to go potty, it is practically too late! Factor in lots of restroom breaks, and know where the nearest restroom is to any ride or event that you plan to experience. If the queue set up allows for it, you can usually meet your group at the front of the line by notifying the ride operator that you had a potty emergency. Also, people are often willing to let you pass through the line to your group with a toddler in tow. If your child is agreeable to the idea, you might also consider having him wear a pull-up.
#4 Children who are too small to ride all rides
Luckily, Disney encourages families with small children, and makes it easy for their parents to have fun too. One of the ways they do this is the Rider Switch (also known as the Baby Swap) for rides that babies and other young children are not allowed on (or just don’t want to ride). Just take your group to the ride operator and indicate which of you want to go first, and which of you (up to 3) want to stay behind with the child. When the first group is done riding, they can take the child and the second group can ride with minimal waiting.
#5 A large group
Large groups can be challenging if you expect everyone to stay together all the time. Especially if they are groups of mixed ages. I remember the first time I went with a large group (there were 19 of us). We spent a lot of our day standing in the middle of the street, deciding what to do next. Not the best use of our time!
My recommendation for a large group is to have three different itineraries that group members can mix and match, depending on how they feel in the moment. After you quiz your group, you will know better what events and activities are popular.
First, the Character Itinerary.
This is for the folks who want to meet and get their photo taken with absolutely every character at Disneyland. Plan the character meet and greets first, then fill in around them with the rides and shows that the rest of the group is doing. Don’t forget to bring an autograph book for the characters to sign!
Second, the Show Itinerary.
Some people love shows, and don’t want to miss a single one. Most showtimes are posted, so you can plan out all the shows first, then decide what else sounds fun. Be sure to allow time to get a good place to watch the show!
Third, the Ride Itinerary.
Most Disney guests come for the rides, so this itinerary will likely include the most people in your group. You may want to split this itinerary further into coasters/thrill rides and calm rides if you have kids that aren’t tall enough or don’t like coasters.
When planning your itineraries, try to coordinate all of them by choosing rides that are in the same general area as the characters and shows you have planned. I like to do all of my itineraries on one list, using different colors for each specialized itinerary. That way I can see at a glance what the whole group is doing, and when people can migrate from one itinerary to another.
Please see my post, 6 tips for a successful trip to Disneyland with a big group, for more ideas.
Planning itineraries can be challenging, especially factoring in the needs of all the different people you are traveling with.
Who is going to Disneyland and California Adventure with you?